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Top Gear mag's greatest cars - small

It’s hard to make all the car you want fit into a small package. Some have cracked it

  1. For Top Gear magazine’s 300th issue, we celebrated the best 50 cars over 299 issues: here’s our pick of the best small cars

     

    Marc Newson is arguably the world’s most well-regarded product designer. He spends about half his time working for Apple, the rest on projects for clients like Louis Vuitton and Nike. He designed a piece of furniture – the Lockheed Lounge – that sold at auction in 2015 for £2.43m. He loves cars, but when I asked him to name a modern car he really admired, the answer was a long time coming. Finally, he replied. “What was that little Audi? I loved that.” The A2. It’s a very Marc Newson kind of car.

    Audi was so far ahead of the curve with this one that the curve in question has yet to materialise. Audi’s ASF (aluminium spaceframe) tech first appeared on the A8 in the mid-Nineties, but deploying it in a car as tiddly as the A2 before the decade’s end really was something. The A2’s body weighed 43 per cent less than the equivalent in steel (it was just 895kg overall), and it had slippery aero numbers, too. It also had a tiny footprint on the road, and was more vertically oriented than horizontal.

    It didn’t ride all that nicely, nor was it bulging with space inside, but there was room for four grown-ups and storage space in the rear footwell if needed. Had Audi millennial-ised the Mini? Nope. BMW did that, and with greater commercial success. The A2, like so many clever ideas, didn’t connect with the buying public. The virtues of weight-saving have always been a tough sell, and the A2’s unquestionable tech savvy turned out to be less appealing than the fact that you could order the Mini (we refuse to write MINI) with a Union Jack roof (and this is years before Nigel Farage arrived).

  2. There were other options, too, many, many thousands of them, and soon Madonna was singing about her Mini Cooper, and even America began buying the car in numbers beyond BMW’s wildest imaginings. This was good news, because the Mini was manufactured in Oxford. It was also a tribute to the guys who’d engineered it, most of whom were British. So, good for UK plc, and a shot in the arm for the beleaguered domestic car industry as the BMW Rover experiment stumbled to its disastrous denouement. But not the Mini Marc would have designed, which is a shame.

    On the other hand, the Mini’s reboot is arguably one of the great success stories of TG’s lifetime. Nothing about it was as groundbreaking as the original (bolder proposals were rejected by the BMW board), the 1.6-litre engine it arrived with in 2001 was a bit meh, and the Clubman, Countryman and Coupe spin-offs were all frankly dodgy (daft doors, awful ride, baseball cap styling respectively). But for a while there, we all wanted a Mini Cooper. Forget the flimflam, it was fun. Simple as that.

  3. VW’s Up rivals Mini for egregious branding. But in most other respects here’s the true successor to the original Mini, only with VW build integrity, Apple-y interior graphics, and a pleasing lack of mass. Again, VW’s more outrageous plans were toned down in order to make the Up project profitable. And yet in the same year that the group unleashed the 1,479bhp Bugatti Chiron, why does the prospect of the 113bhp Up GTI sound so damn good?

  4. Mini Cooper (BMW)

    WHAT WE SAID THEN 
    The Mini is fun, nippy, retro, fashionable, inexpensive, poignant, fab 

    WHAT WE SAY NOW
    So much life and movement, so much driver involvement, so slow. But a lesson to the fatter-tyred current version that grip isn’t everything

  5. Volkswagen Up

    WHAT WE SAID THEN 
    I’ve heard this argument where people say, “This car’s so good it’s boring.” No it’s not, it’s just very good. There’s tremendous purpose about the Up 

    WHAT WE SAY NOW
    Like the iPhone, it’s simple to operate, good to look at and just works. New drivers have never had it so good.

  6. Audi A2

    WHAT WE SAID THEN 
    The A2 offers spacious accommodation with Audi’s excellent build quality, especially the rock-solid dashboard 

    WHAT WE SAY NOW
    You can grab yourself a slice of automotive space dust for just a few thousand quid these days… and it still makes sense for a modern family

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